Aerie Heights Keep Great Hall

The largest room of the keep, it is big enough to be warmed by two hearths spaced down its length. The raw stone walls of the keep are here covered by large parti-colored fabric hangings with the exception of behind the dias at the far end, there the wall is hung with a large tapestry showing a tournament scene from Fastheld's far past. The ceiling is as high as two men at the sides, sloping up to an apex far above in shadow. The whole of it is held up by large biinwoood beams, dark now with the smoke of many winters. Along the sides of the hall a few biinwood benches and chairs are arranged for the convenience of members of the court as well as those who seek audience with the Baronial Court. The dias at the high end of the hall is polished wood platform, raised a foot off the floor. Here are two ornate chairs for the Baron and Baroness, and here is where the public business of Barony takes place.

A guard in Nillu livery stands at the entrance of the Great Hall of Aerie Heights while Damiante converses with her maid near the dias. Seeing a man approach, the guard turns and bows. "Good eve, Excellency," he says after bowing, though he recognizes the man only as noble. "May I inquire as to your name and your purpose at this Nillu court?"

Markus Kahar flicks up a small piece of parchment, nodding to the Guardsman. "This. The Lady of your House requested my presence, without guards or attendants, and so I arrive at her call."

The Guard takes the parchment and reads it carefully. His eyes widen slightly and he bows more deeply. "Your Grace," he says. "I will announce you immediately. Forgive me, but this letter is highly unusual." He hurries toward Damiante, whispers something in her ear, and Damiante is seen turning and quickly walking toward the Duke. "Your Grace," she says after a deep bow. "You honor me with your presence. Please come in." She gestures to the maid. "Wine and cheese, Brenna. Bring it to the Study please." She looks back to the Duke. "Will you join me and take your ease in my home?" Budgeron capers to and fro, chasing an insect of some kind.

Markus Kahar accepts the invitation and steps inside, shrugging off his cloak and loosening his chestplate. "I came as soon as I received it from the Aegis," he bows respectfully to the Lady of the house, before commandeering a servant to hold his sundry equipment. He looks inquisitively towards Damiante, "... so then. What. Is the matter?"

Damiante frowns slightly. "You came from the Aegis to here?" she says, clearly puzzled. "Please let us go into the study and speak of this privately." Brenna emerges from the study and bows. "All is in order, Ladyship." Damiante nods and calls back to the Guard. "See that we are not disturbed, Mannan." She gestures to the study door, indicating that the Duke should precede her.

Aerie Heights Keep Study

As quiet as the Scullery is noisy, the study is where the private business of the Barony is attended to, and where the Baron and Baroness can often be found on cool evenings. There is a generous fireplace set into the north wall with a few comfortable chairs placed close by. The stone mantle is carved to show the village and keep of Hawk's Aerie in Winter. A large table fills a corner, covered with maps and tally sheets. One full wall is decked in darkly polished shelves stuffed to overflowing with leather-bound books, large dusty tomes and scrolls of every material suitable. Each wall, but the one holding the fireplace, is bisected by a large door of deeply carved wood, the stone lintel over each completing the seasonal theme begun on the fireplace mantel; Spring for the Guest's Chamber, Summer for the Master's Chamber, and Autumn for the Great Hall.

Markus Kahar follows at a respectful distance, his eyes focusing elsewhere - the lady is, after all, married. The old soldier continues to shed pieces of armor from his person, peeling water-logged leather backing from his underclothes. "Miserable weather, Mistress. This winter is as prolonged as a muckworm's spawn."

Damiante eyes the Duke's movement then ducks into the Mastery briefly. She reappears with several towels. "Here, Your Grace," she says. "Before you melt and your armor rust. Shall I send for a livery servant to attend you?" She holds out towels and takes away wet ones.

Markus Kahar shakes his head, noting the isolation of the study before responding, cautiously, "... your Ladyship. I'd prefer to know why I've been summoned, if possible... and to this place?"

Damiante stops her ministrations and steps back, noting the Duke's nervousness. "My apologies, Your Grace," she says. "I've spent many a day at tournaments and have seen good armor go to waste for lack of care." She turns and pours wine into two goblets, offering one to the Duke. "Thank you for coming, although I did not mean my missive to cause you distress. I have found a letter, a private letter, that I think may be one of your nephews. A courier brought it, and I opened it without thinking."

Markus Kahar blinks and arches a brow in surprise. "What? ... bizarre. Not the other day I was informed that a letter sent to me by the Zahir Duke failed to reach me. The courier disappeared. What is this letter that you've happened upon, then?"

Damiante goes to the desk and shuffles a few parchments. "Ah here it is," she says. "I think you are advising your nephew to begin negotiations with my family about something, but I can't be certain. Once I glanced through it and realized it was not for me, I set it aside and called for you." She takes a sip of her wine and hands the letter to the Duke. Munch stretches its black wings. Illus swivels its head, regarding the world around it through beady eyes.

Markus Kahar picks up the letter, his eyes flashing in serious concern. "This was a private correspondence between my nephew and I. This was sent by a secure courier. How, exactly, did it end up *here*."

Damiante shakes her head. "I have no idea, Your Grace," she replies. "But you can understand my concern about the misdirection of the letter...and the letter itself." She gestures to chairs near the fire. 'Please take your ease," she says.

Markus Kahar coughs, trying to relax, and sits himself. He slides the letter into his vest pocket, not entirely sure where to begin. "Well." He states matter-of-factly, as if prompting Damiante to begin.

Damiante slides a footstool under her feet, being of such small stature, her feet would not normally touch the floor. "Yes," she says. "Well. To the first question of missing and misdirected missives. Have you been able to gather an information to why?" Munch swivels its head, regarding the world around it through beady eyes.

Markus Kahar shakes his head. "No. This is the first I've heard about this, as for the Zahir... I have no idea. My agents are looking in to it."

Damiante's eyebrows knit. "The Zahir?" she replies. "I made no mention. Oh, you mean the Zahir-Mikin trouble. I have dispatched a message to His Grace Lord Chancellor, but have received no reply, I hope my message has not been waylaid." Damiante picks up a piece of cheese and nibbles on it.

Markus Kahar sighs lightly, shaking his head in unhapiness as he plucks a grape from the plate. "Nothing is secure anymore; nothing safe. So, then, a situation has evolved - that you have been privy to some secrets of my house. Secrets that were not intended for your eyes, but are never-the-less in the open. You must obviously have some questions... I give you this chance to ask."

Damiante settles back in her chair, fingers templing. "I appreciate your frankness, Your Grace," she says. "And I shall endeavor to do the same." She pauses as if gathering her thoughts. "It is well known that you have expanded your sphere to include Eastwatch, and though your admonition to Adaer at the competition was noted, I do wonder when paired with your letter, if perhaps your recent gift to my hands had other intents. Intents toward perhaps an uneven alliance between our houses?" She chooses her words carefully, blue eyes level on the Duke.

Markus Kahar takes a long breath, trying to balance his thoughts and select his words. "Indeed. I am painfully aware that the other great houses look askance to our enlargement, and I will not confirm nor deny the substance of the rumors. The fact of the matter is that rumors will spread whether I speak on them or not, so for that matter, I choose discretion in order to protect my family. My nephew Adaer, for all his faults, is blood - I have risked life and limb to protect him before, and I shalt do it again if the need arises. He is young - despite his mistakes, I see in him much promise. He has done good which most are not privy to. And in any event, this is the purpose of family.... the young live to trouble the old."

"... and that letter which you read, the one that had no intention of ever being read by your eyes, was in response to a question of his. A question, as you so well point out, as to a encouraging closer friendship between our house and another. If we were to have a friend, whom would they be?"

Damiante listens carefully. "I am honored you look to my people for friendship," she says. "And friendship I willingly offer, but I must also look to our lands for safekeeping, and do admit to a certain concern at your House's encroachment on the Market District." She reaches to pick up her goblet once more. Munch ruffles its dark feathers. Illus hops along the ground, pecking at bugs.

Markus Kahar pops the grape into his mouth, crushing it eagerly and savoring the juice. "Well," Markus offers after a long moment, "... the letter was never meant to be read. Peer to peer, I shalt be clear: We don't *need* an ally. The Vozhd control more then three times that of our nearest noble house, not including the mines, quarries and deposits we control spread of the realm."

Markus smiles amicably when he speaks. Whatever his words, his demeanor is not threatening. "... that being said, we certainly don't need enemies, either. You call of an 'unequal alliance' is unfounded, because we need nothing from you. I ventured to suggest House Nillu to my nephew because I have respect for your people, your values and your abilities. There is no inequality between us, because we *need* nothing from eachother. I cannot vouch for the fates of wealth, but in terms of need, Hawk's Aerie seems very well to do in of itself. It is your character Vozhdya covets, narry your resources. A wise man selects among the best for his closest companions. You, of all people, can understand this."

Damiante nods. "Your words are assuring," she says. "Though your estimation of the House situation is -- stark. Completely accurate, but even by it, you can see why I might be concerned. Hawk's Aerie may be far from the Market District, yet we are dependent upon it and can ill afford to have it turned from us should trouble befall it. As for my character, well, it is only our family reputation that sits so well. I have yet to prove msyelf."

Markus Kahar shakes his head, "... while you speak little of your own character, I have witnessed that of Oren, Soram and Astians, and they speak loud enough as it is. Thus is the reason for our interest." Markus absorbs your words, turning them over in his mind.

"We have like minds, Damiante. I think it would only benefit us to seek a closer relationship with House Nillu."

Damiante nods. "As do I, Your Grace," she says. "As long as we are of an understanding that I have no intention of allowing there to ever be a House Vodhz Kahar Nillu." She smiles and pours him more wine. She sighs. "But these are dark times, Your Grace, and the rise of Shadow concerns me also. I hope peace can be made with the Mikins and Zahirs so that we are in full accord against the Shadow Threat, and not concerned with Civil War."

Markus Kahar laughs gently, "... House Vozhd values its independence. Only by bloody and bitter warfare were we made to be Vozhd-Kahars at all. In my opinion, the only battle we were pleased to lose. As in all things of strong construction, a firm lift begins with a solid foundation. In the next few days the House Vozhd will send a token to express our friendship. I leave up to you the response, if any. Then we shall know your feelings in the matter."

Damiante quirks her brow. "Your Grace," she says. "I am honored by all your gifts...but also a bit uncomfortable. I believe in establishing good faith and friendship on continued contact and joint ventures such as our efforts with the Mikin Zahir problem. There is no need to ply us with gifts. I think our feelings our clear enough. We treasure your good relations and hope they can continue. Will you be in attendance at our next feast?"

Markus Kahar shakes his head, "You misunderstand me. This is not a gift; rather, a return. House Vozhd has, for a period, been administering a number of Nillu mines on the south Aegis. We have served as stewards for them - and as such that a responsible Nillu heir has arisen, the time has come to return them. As for the fete, as always, I'd be delighted."

Damiante's eyes widen. "My apologies," she says. "I had no idea, Your Grace. My uncles will be pleased at having the administration of the mines back in our House. My thanks!" She bows her head briefly. "Hopefully, my baron husband will be in attendance also. I hope for a much more festive event than the last!"

Markus Kahar shakes his head, "Not in the least. Your activities are always a pleasure, my lady, and you have nothing to regret. I will send the deeds over post-haste. Now I regret I have kept you too long, for I myself have much I need to do! Until we speak again, my lady."

Damiante smiles, eyes bright and blue. "Thank you, Your Grace," she says. " I will be sure to forward them to my uncle Astian as soon as I am able. And I have to attend to other things also. May I escort you out?"

Markus Kahar nods, "I'd be honoured, my lady. Please."

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